Canada: Ontario Human Rights Commission Supports the Collection Of Numerical Data

New Policy

On June 28, 2005 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the "Commission") released a new policy entitled "Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination". The Policy contains the Commission’s interpretation of provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code ("Code") relating to race, racial discrimination and racism. It replaces the Commission’s 1996 "Policy on Racial Slurs and Harassment and Racial Jokes". The Policy indicates that while the Policy is not binding on the human rights tribunal or the courts, the Commission’s policies and guidelines are often given great deference. The purpose of the Policy is to set standards for how individuals, employers, service providers and policy makers should act to ensure they comply with the Code.

In its Policy, the Commission addresses the importance of collecting and analyzing numerical data. The Commission takes the position that not only does the Code permit the collection and analysis of identity data based on enumerated grounds for Code legitimate purposes, but appropriate data collection is necessary for effectively monitoring discrimination, identifying and removing systematic barriers, ameliorating historical disadvantage and promoting substantive equality.

The Commission confirms that all individuals and organizations in Ontario are responsible for upholding human rights within their respective environments. It states that in keeping with the preventative and remedial purpose of the Code, there is a positive duty to take corrective action to ensure that the Code is not being, and will not in future be, breached.

It is the position of the Commission that the Code permits collection and analysis of data on enumerated grounds, such as race, religion, disability or sex as long as it is for legitimate purposes and not contrary to the Code.

The Commission states that efforts should be made to collect data that will shed meaningful light on the issues and to gather it in a way that is consistent with accepted data collection techniques.

The Commission indicates that the individual involved in the collection of data must be informed why such information is being collected and the use to which it will be put. Privacy of individuals must be assured and data collection, storage, access and disclosure must be carefully controlled.

Toronto District School Board

In an education context, the Toronto District School Board (the "Board") is considering the collection of demographic data. On November 17, 2004, the Board requested staff to "develop research proposals that identify the factors within the school system, which may inhibit student achievement. Such factors should include but not be limited to differences in gender, race, ethnicity, mother tongue, income and place of residence." In its motion, the Board indicated that it "shall provide support for students at-risk and develop innovative solutions to counter systemic barriers that students might face."

The purpose of the data collection would be to identify where there are disparities in student achievement, develop strategies and interventions to address the disparities and monitor the results.

On November 17th, the Board approved the establishment of an external Advisory Committee on Student Achievement to provide staff with input into the development of research proposals. The Committee is chaired by Harold Brathwaite, former Director of the Peel District School Board.

The Board’s decision arose as a result of significant public and Board discussion during 2003/2004 and 2004/2005 concerning the needs of at-risk students and students from racial and ethno cultural groups. There have been on-going concerns raised by parents and leaders of the African Canadian community, Aboriginal community, members of the Hispanic Canadian community and advocates for newcomer groups about how the school system was addressing the needs of the students in those communities.

The Board’s current research provides an identification of an achievement gap for certain students. Where "at-risk" is defined by students who completed less than seven credits by the end of Grade 9, Grade 9 students born in the English-speaking Caribbean (39.6%), Central and South America (32.5%), East Africa (31.3%) and West Africa (28.3%) are likely to be at-risk.

The Board’s research also indicates that 25% of the Grade 10 students had completed 14 or fewer credits making them unlikely to graduate on time. Of this group, students born in the English-speaking Caribbean, Central and South America and East and West Africa and students with high absenteeism are likely to be at-risk.

In addition, the Board’s research indicates that the language groups with the highest percentage of at-risk students are Spanish (35%), Portuguese (35%) and Somali (32%).

The Board’s goal is to ensure that all of its students are provided with equitable opportunities to be successful in its system. Its objective is to provide all learners with supports and rewards to develop their abilities and achieve their aspirations.

The request for a research proposal to collect data on student demographics on race and ethnicity is intended to assist the Board to determine whether the collection of such information would help the Board be more effective in its strategies to close the achievement gap among students.

In the event that the Board decides to collect demographic data on race and ethnicity, it is hoped that such information would provide a more precise profile of the diversity of the student population. It is intended that the information would reveal relevant patterns which would be helpful to the Board in developing appropriate programs and enhanced support for students across the system.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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